The Kingdom is best known for its stunning scenery, but what you may not know is that it is also home to some of the best roads in rural Ireland, from Killarney through Kilgarvan all the way to picturesque Kenmare. With that in mind, why wouldn’t you drive to Kenmare for the day on the Jackie Healy Rae highway? Door to door in less than 40 minutes, Kenmare is bursting with colour and character, a must visit when in beautiful Kerry, where I happily was this Easter weekend.
Curiosity shops and independent cafes line the two main streets of this notoriously bustling town and as a foodie destination it has earned its stripes over the years. From Lorge chocolatiers to Alain Bras Vanilla Grape Wines, there are plenty of tasty gems to explore during the day and when evening falls Kenmare is a haven for food lovers, with old favourites like Packies having almost legendary status at this stage.
A more recent addition to Kenmare’s buzzing restaurant scene, The Mews, took Best Newcomer in Kerry at last year’s RAI regionals but its owners Gary Fitzgerald and Maria O’Sullivan are familiar faces in Kenmare, having previously headed up the popular Lime Tree. With Gary in the kitchen and Maria looking after guests, their team work has paid off in the form of their own beautiful restaurant. The chic dining room immediately entices with understated elegance, neutral tones with oyster and sage accents, pretty lanterns and dim lighting, tucked away down a lane off the main thorough fare of Henry Street.
Arriving for an early booking we were lucky to get, we immediately noted a superb Early Bird menu packed with choices, every one of which was taken from the main menu rather than composed of cheaper alternative dishes – not always the case. Up until 7pm, seven days a week, three courses are on offer for €32, which in this neck of the woods is highly competitive. With a full restaurant by 6.30pm, this is clearly working very well indeed.
We perused the menus over homemade breads, a fluffy tomato and fennel and rustic brown loaf, served with a seriously garlicky green olive tapenade – not great for date night but a delicious indulgence when dining with mother dearest! As every dish catching her eye appeared on the early bird menu, mom happily opted to stick with that, starting with Hanley’s Black and White Pudding wrapped in filo with quince preserve and lemongrass jus.
Both Hanley’s puddings, made just over the border in county Cork were rich, subtly spiced and moreish with quince offering a zingy contrast. We agreed it may have been better if the crisp filo parcel had been served separately to the jus, but that said it was a simple, very tasty showcase of the artisan produce being crafted on Kenmare’s doorstep and there was nothing left on the plate.
I was too tempted by the prospect of local seafood delights, and with a glass of crisp Raimat Abadia, Chardonnay/Albarino in tow (€6.95), how could I resist? It would be a travesty to overlook seafood in Kenmare, at the apex of the Beara and Dingle Peninsulas and Brandon Bay Brown Crab and Shrimp wrapped in Kenmare Smoked Salmon (€13.50) was a “3 in 1” I could get certainly get behind.
Alongside a neat seafood parcel, Kenmare’s answer to Korean kimchi was more pickled cabbage and carrot than outrageously stinky ferment, adding pleasing acidity to the rich and luxurious crab and shrimp bound in avocado cream within. A delightful start with clean flavours crying out to be savoured.
Across the table, an ample main arrived, and I managed to steal a bite to determine that it was one of the best Slow Cooked Pork Belly dishes I’ve tasted in recent times. With a properly rendered crackling layer atop succulent and pullable pork, neither of us could fault Gary’s execution of this dish.
A tangy smoked ketchup and salty chorizo-spiked cabbage alongside apple linseed preserve providing the necessary sweetness meant this dish was bite after bite of umami. “I don’t want it to be finished” was the verdict of my discerning and often difficult to please dining companion – high praise indeed!
Sticking with seafood, a special of one of my favourites, Turbot with Celeriac, Lentil and Hazelnut (€27.50) called out to me and I was powerless to resist. Two generous turbot fillets were beautifully cooked and needed little coaxing with a fork, served on a bed of pleasingly al dente puy lentils dotted with earthy celeriac. Tying it all together, a bright and bold lemon scented beurre blanc, silky, sharp and the perfect foil for meaty turbot. A simple but classic dish, again very well executed – you would easily pay €30 upwards for this elsewhere, and be glad you did.
We would both quite happily have foregone dessert, but spotting that Gary crafts his own ice cream in house, it seemed necessary to have a sneaky Chocolate Marquise served with cherry ice cream. A deeply rich tranche of dark chocolate velvet propped up a butterscotch-like crispy tuille, housing a scoop of the luscious homemade ice cream. This was the star of the dish, luxuriously creamy and obviously crafted with quality dairy. For once I was sorry I didn’t opt for a bowl of ice cream for dessert, with intriguing sounding viscount, peanut butter brittle and fig flavours dotting the menu – next time perhaps.
Our bill, excluding service, came to €79.95 and we headed back to Killarney pleased to have discovered a little Kenmare gem. Gary’s stellar cooking is served with a generous side of real Kerry hospitality from Maria – a perfect combination. We felt dinner in The Mews managed to stand out in a town which is very tough to shine in and I could easily see how one visit would turn into repeat custom here. When in Kerry, a leisurely day of exploring Kenmare is a must on your to do list and trust me, you won’t regret wandering into The Mews, if you can manage to nab a table!
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Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.